I love living in Roseburg. I really do. I love my little house in a way I’ve never loved a collection of building materials combined to create a habitation. My 10 minute commute to work is amazing. The summer weather is everything sunny and perfect. I am surrounded by beautiful places. I love living in Roseburg.
Roseburg does somewhat lack in the amenities department. True, there are some fantastic restaurants, but the options are limited. There is rather a dearth of cultural activities and date night options vary between the movie theatre and the bowling alley. I happily manage what Roseburg is missing with making any excuse to go to Portland for the weekend. In March, having some friends in town for a conference provided more than enough reason to leave my small town in southern Oregon for the big city of Portland.
Things I enjoyed in Portland that I cannot find in my little hometown included the food (of course), a chic hotel, and some iconic Portland sites, including a spot on my “Oregon bucket list.”
Because of a great deal on the HotelTonight app, we booked a room at the Hotel Eastlund in downtown Portland. This hotel had everything – style, comfort, amenities, and a great location with convenient location to the light rail.
There was even a great rooftop bar where we enjoyed sunset cocktails against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.
Afterwards, we took a pleasant walk across the river into the Pearl District for dinner.
As I mentioned, I had friends coming into town for a conference. As the token Oregonian, I had chosen Irving Street Kitchen as the spot to meet for dinner. Pros: Excellent cocktails, an ideal location in the Pearl District, and great style. Plus, it was one of a handful of restaurants that easily took reservations for large groups.
Cons: The food was solidly good, but not as wonderful as comparably priced restaurants in Portland and the service was slow.
Even if Friday’s dinner slightly disappointed, we knew that Saturday morning we would get an unbeatable meal at our favorite restaurant – Le Chon. For the first time, we went there for brunch. It was not disappointing.
Needing to walk off a few calories, we strolled along the river among the blossoming cherry trees before perusing the Portland Saturday Market.
Somehow, this book loving heart of mine had not managed to make it to this iconic Portland bookstore in the 2 1/2 years I had lived in Oregon. This was literally the biggest bookstore I had ever seen. I spent a blissfully undetermined amount of time (thank you, love) wandering among the maze of books, feeling both overjoyed and overwhelmed, inhaling deep breaths of the book smell, utterly content. It was perfection.
Although at heart, I will never be a city girl, I do love to spend some time there now and then doing all the city things that I miss. And Brandon, wonderful man that he is, tagged along for a weekend of some of my favorites.
Sometimes I can be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. Like when I’m deciding upon the layout for my master bathroom addition (just ask Brandon) or when I am creating a menu plan for the week. But none of that compares to how obsessive I can become when planning a trip. Recently that was taken to a whole new level. I was not planning just any trip; I was planning Brandon’s 30th birthday. It had to be perfect.
Because if it were perfect he would know just how much I love him. Because I wanted him to begin the next decade of his life knowing that the best is yet to come. Because if I’m going to take an entire week off work it better be awesome.
After considering the countless options of where to go, I eventually settled upon Washington. I know, I know. It’s hardly my usual far flung destination. And it was, after all, Brandon’s 30th birthday. But this ended up being the perfect option for several reasons.
First, there were no airplanes involved. It had not been my year for airplanes. With delays and misplaced luggage and looooong days of rescheduled and redirected flights the norm over the previous months, I did not want to risk the stress of that for this particular trip. That, obviously, meant going somewhere within driving distance.
Second, Seattle is one of my absolute favorite cities and I wanted to share it with one of my absolute favorite people.
Third, Brandon loves the people in his life with a generosity and loyalty I admire daily. Choosing Washington as our destination allowed us to fit in time with friends and family, without which Brandon’s 30th birthday could not have been perfect.
So Washington it was. Specifically Bainbridge Island.
I had found the perfect location to celebrate Brandon’s new decade of life. What next? This really gets at my planning process. Typically, when determining where to go, I either jump on a good travel deal or, if I have somewhere specific in mind, I book airfare first because this is often the most expensive and/or least flexible aspect of the trip. On the one hand, wanting to go everywhere can be challenging because, well, everywhere is a big place. On the other hand, when the right opportunity comes along, it is easy to say yes. All that aside, not having to worry about airfare (thank goodness) on this particular adventure (see above), I was on to my (usual) next step – where to stay.
There are generally two approaches to booking a place or places to stay on a trip – either it is a central part of the vacation experience and thus choosing a beautiful or unique, and often more expensive, property with amenities is a priority or it is simply a home base from which to explore, often meaning that nondescript but affordable lodgings in convenient locations become most important. In short, either the hotel matters or it does not matter. Generally, I lean somewhat toward the former approach, although spending hours of research in order to find the little known budget hotel or rental option in a great location with some character is my idea of a good time. For this particular trip, I wanted everything to be flawless and that included the places we stayed.
I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. In fact, this inn is overwhelmingly the reason why I settled upon Bainbridge Island rather than Seattle as our primary destination.
You may recall that I stayed there once before and absolutely fell in love. It is, hands down, one of the loveliest and most comfortable places I have ever stayed. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for Brandon’s actual birthday. But only for one night because the inn is rather expensive and I am not a “real” doctor and don’t make real doctor money! Don’t get me wrong though; staying there is worth every penny. The Inn at Pleasant Beach has everything one could want – a gorgeous location on the water, beautiful and cozy rooms with unbeatable attention to detail, and a friendly staff.
No part of me regrets splurging on a night here. And let’s be honest, I say it was for Brandon, but really, it was for me. Although this was his favorite spot, too.
With one night of the trip taken care of, I needed to find another place to stay on Bainbridge Island for a night or two. I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the ferry (so that we could come back from Seattle without worrying too much about how many glasses of wine we enjoyed with dinner), something affordable, and, preferably, somewhere with style. Little Rabbit Studio, which can be booked through VRBO, fit the bill exactly.
An impeccably decorated studio next to the owner’s home, we both loved our stay here. Again, it was all about the details – the bottle of wine and sweet bread left for us to enjoy, the weather forecast written on the chalkboard, the umbrella to borrow, the books and pamphlets of local attractions. It was such an easy place to stay.
The details reflected how much everything else about the studio was carefully curated and on point. We loved the hot tub, the perfectly outfitted small kitchen, and the location.
I would stay here again in a heartbeat.
That was initially the plan – a couple of nights in Little Rabbit Studio and perhaps a couple of nights at the Inn. But of course, plans evolve. Because I love Brandon and wanted his birthday trip to reflect that love. Not at all because I am an obsessive perfectionist who sometimes gets out of control and starts making plans bigger and bigger.
I decided that I wanted to add a night in Portland so that we could eat at our favorite restaurant. Plus, Brandon gets a little stir crazy in the car and this would break up the drive from Seattle to home. In a super complicated decision-making process, I chose the subtly wine-themed Hotel Vintage because I love Kimpton Hotels and we had not stayed there before. Like I said, super complicated.
This was another absolutely perfect stay. From the gorgeous lobby bar to the slightly edgy décor to the birthday gift greeting us in the upgraded room to the complimentary wine hour, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.
Can you tell that I love the details?
And then, there was my last edition to the itinerary. After decided that Brandon really needed to go skydiving for his birthday, I booked a night at the RL Hotel Olympia. This was a night when location and a good price were my priorities, but the recently remodeled hotel was a nice bonus. Despite a late arrival, it was a nice, quick stay that put us in the perfect spot for the plans of the following day.
I know not everyone sees hotels as a splurge-worthy aspect of a trip. And honestly, if it were between not going somewhere because I could not afford a nice hotel and going somewhere and staying somewhere less than luxurious, the latter option wins every time. Assuming it is clean and safe. Those are my minimum criteria (ask anyone who has ever stayed in a less than clean hotel with me, I don’t do well). But sometimes it is fun to live it up a little and enjoy a fancy hotel, especially to celebrate a special occasion.
With the hotel situation mostly settled, I could move on to the details – what to do and, perhaps my favorite, where to eat. More on that to come.
For those considering a similar trip, our itinerary ended up looking like this:
Day 1: Drive to Portland. Have a birthday party in Portland at Brandon’s mother’s house with friends and family who live in the area. Drive to Olympia, Washington, getting in really late and slightly irritable (just keeping it real).
Day 2: Wake up. Inform Brandon that he is going skydiving. Have Brandon insist that if he is, I am to. Feel secretly relieved when we are unable to skydive because of weather. Drive to Bainbridge Island and move on the Plan B for the day. Check into Little Rabbit Studio.
Day 3: Spend the day exploring Seattle and spend our second night at the studio.
Day 4: Happy Birthday Brandon!! Welcome to the thirties, which has, thus far, been the best decade yet of my life. I can only hope the same for him. Reluctantly check out of our rental and feel quickly consoled after checking into the lovely perfection that is Inn at Pleasant Beach. Spend the afternoon relaxing before a delicious birthday dinner.
Day 5: Drive back to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Vintage. Have a fun evening in Portland that included dinner at our favorite spot.
Day 6: More Portland fun before I had to drive home and Brandon had to fly out for work.
Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.
We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.
But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.
Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.
We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.
We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.
After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.
At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.
It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.
The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.
It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.
What a way to start the weekend!
After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.
At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.
As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.
But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.
Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.
So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.
During my time in Iceland, I had the opportunity to stay at three lovely hotels. Although I did not choose these particular hotels given that they were part of the tour package I booked (i.e., I did not spend hours exhaustively researching options before finding the perfect place), I would stay at each of them again.
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina
For my night in Reykjavik, I stayed at the stylish and quirky Icelander Hotel Reykjavik Marina. Located, as the name suggests, right next to the water, the hotel provides easy access to the marina and some of the best seafood restaurants in Iceland. When I arrived extra early in the morning (my flight got in before 7 am, after all), the front desk kindly stowed my bags and prioritized getting a room clean for me while I set out for breakfast. The major shopping streets of Reykjavik, discussed in my previous post, were about a 10 – 15 minute walk from the hotel. Although, perhaps even shorter if I did not have to walk gingerly in order to avoid slipping on the ice.
Not only was my room fantastic, the hotel had great common spaces, including a small cinema and a library, and served a generous and delicious breakfast buffet that was included with my deluxe room. I loved everything about this place.
For the next three nights, I stayed in the absolutely gorgeous Hotel Grimsborgir. Located in the dark and quiet Icelandic countryside along the famous Golden Circle, this hotel had a unique set up that was both my favorite and least favorite aspect of the stay: the hotel was not a single building. The main building housed reception and the restaurant, where dinner was available and where the breakfast buffet was served in the mornings.
The hotel rooms were located in multiple buildings spread throughout the property. This meant that going to dinner or breakfast involved a beautiful walk through the snowy landscape.
It also meant that going to dinner or breakfast meant an icy, cold, and slippery walk through the snowy landscape.
It was always a bit of a relief to make it back to my room each night knowing I had made it another day without wiping out in the snow. It also probably helped that my room looked like this:
Getting to end each day in this hotel room with a hot bath or by curling up in the cozy chair for a FaceTime call with my boyfriend was wonderful. My patio was also a great spot to keep my eyes out for the northern lights while in my pajamas. The Hotel Grimsborgir was perfection.
Northern Light Inn
This was my least favorite of the places I stayed. Most likely chosen because of the convenient location to both the airport and the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Light Inn was perfectly adequate, but could not possibly compare to the other places I stayed. The room was clean and comfortable, but missing the small touches such as blackout curtains (which would sort of seem necessary during the Icelandic summer) and fancy bathrooms (I sort of have a thing for nice showers).
I cannot speak to the breakfast, because I slept too late to enjoy it, but the public spaces were spacious and provided a nice place to spend time after checking out of my room and before my shuttle to the airport on the last day of my trip.
Overall, I could not have asked for better places to stay while in Iceland. I would not hesitate to recommend each of them to anyone traveling in Iceland. I know not everyone gets excited about hotels, but if, like me, you enjoy staying in nice places, these are fantastic options.